Being a tall, skinny kid with poor self-esteem, I made myself smaller by rounding my upper back and walking around with poor posture. Once strength training became my bag, that all changed. The upper back plays a vital role in the health of your shoulders, posture, and ability to pick stuff up off the floor and put it down.

IMO, even many experienced exercises neglect this body area because of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind aspect. But doing so puts you behind the eight ball. You will no longer overlook the upper back.

Here, I’ll dive into anatomy, upper back training benefits, and four exercises to give you some baby got back. Are you ready? Then let’s go.

Upper Back Geeky Stuff

The upper back has two main muscles, which are explained below.

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Upper Back Anatomy

Major and minor rhomboids originate from the neck vertebra, run diagonally down, and attach to the inside of your shoulder blades. Their functions are Scapula adduction (coming together), Scapula inward rotation (bringing your arm down from a lateral raise), and Scapula elevation when you’re reaching above your head.

Trapezius is a large, triangular superficial muscle on each side of your back. It originates from the cervical (neck) spine and all 12 thoracic (chest) vertebrae. The trapezius’s primary functions are Scapula adduction, elevation, depression (lower fibers), and Scapula outward rotation. Both of these muscles play a huge role in shoulder health and posture.  

If all that is over your head, the video below will clear things up.

Upper Back Training Benefits

When you train the biceps, chest, or any other mirror muscle, you can see it working, but not with the upper back. Let me explain the benefits of training in this vital area.  

Stronger Lifts

Although the traps and the rhomboids are not directly trained while squatting, benching, or deadlifting, they play a vital role in setting the table for these lifts. With the squat and deadlift, the upper back strength plays a huge role in keeping a neutral spine.

Upper back strength keeps the bar close to you when you pull, which is essential for lower back health. It prevents lifting injuries and makes the hinge more robust and safer. During the squat, keeping the upper back tight prevents you from leaning too far forward, turning the movement into a good morning.

Plus, the upper back provides the foundation for the bench and overhead press variations. Keeping the upper back tight supports and controls the proper lifting path, allowing for good technique and pressing more weight.

Improved Posture

Research suggests that having a solid and muscular neck reduces the incidence and severity of concussions. But some studies say the opposite. So, if you’re an athlete in danger of concussions, it helps to have a strong neck and upper back area to protect you (1).

Plus, in today’s technology-driven world, where sitting and looking down at screens make up most of our time, a more muscular neck can help prevent poor postural habits.

How do you ask?

For every inch your ears are forward from the shoulders, you increase the head’s weight on the spine by 10 pounds (2). This leads to the muscles of the upper back getting stretched, weak, and inhibited. If left unchecked, shoulder and back injuries could be more prone to occur. That’s a great reason NOT to neglect the upper back.

Now, let’s get into some exercise to strengthen it. 

4 Upper Back Exercises

Here are my favored four upper back exercises to improve posture and the strength and performance of your upper back.

TRX Row           

The most significant advantage of the TRX row is the ability to increase or decrease the intensity by adjusting the foot position closer or farther away from the anchor point. When performed for higher reps, it will make you feel your upper back muscles and biceps for increased flex appeal.

How to do it:

Hold the strap with two hands by your hips and walk your feet toward the anchor point until you feel the right intensity.

Then, straighten your arms. 

Keeping your shoulders down and chest up, pull yourself towards the anchor point until you feel a contraction in your upper back.

Slowly return to the starting position, reset, and repeat.

Set & reps: two to four sets of 12 to 20 reps.

Chest Supported Dumbbell Row

Limiting assistance from your upper and lower body puts more focus on your upper back muscles for added strength. When you perform rows with dumbbells, imbalances on each side are strengthened as you lift each separately. The beauty of the adjustable weight bench version is that you can train your upper back from various angles for better muscle development.  

How to do it:

Set the incline bench at 45 degrees, grab a pair of dumbbells, place your chest on the angled bench, and keep it there.

Let your arms hang down with palms and dumbbells facing each other.

Begin with your chest up and shoulders down.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together and row both dumbbells toward your hips.

Slowly reverse, reset, and repeat.

Sets & reps: Two to four sets of eight to 15 reps.


The TRX YTW is a three-in-one exercise that strengthens the upper back from different angles for better strength and healthier shoulders. It’s an excellent exercise for correcting poor posture and strengthening the muscles surrounding the shoulder, particularly the upper traps and rhomboids.

How to do it:

Set up as you would for the TRX Row, but have your palms facing the floor.

Keep your shoulders down and chest up, pull your arms into a Y shape, and slowly return to the starting position.

Then, pull into a T shape with your palms facing away from you and return to the starting position.

Reset and perform a face pull and then externally rotate the shoulders into the W position.

That’s one round and reset and repeat.

Sets & reps: Two to three sets of doing five reps each.

Unilateral Deadstop Row

Single-arm dumbbell rows like the dead stop rows are great for strengthening imbalances between sides, and you’ll get some extra core work because you are lifting off balance. With the dead-stop row, you’ll go through a more extensive range of motion for added strength and muscle. Because of the pause on the floor to rest your grip, you can go a little heavier than other dumbbell row variations.

How to do it:

Use a weight bench for support, get into a good hinge position, and feel the stress in your hamstrings, not your lower back.

Grab one dumbbell on the floor with your wrist in neutral.

Pull the dumbbell towards your hip, keeping your shoulders down and chest up, and pause for a second.

Then, lower it with control until it reaches the floor.

Reset and repeat for desired reps.

Sets & reps: Two to four sets of 8 to 15 reps.

Wrapping Up

Did I mention that all these exercises train the biceps, too? How remiss of me. Well, they do and strengthen the vital area of the upper back. Substitute one or more of these exercises for better shoulder health, posture, and flex time.

You can thank me later.   

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